Most journalists, writers and reviewers are inclined to stick within the parameters of a particular style guide when creating an article. Presenting thoughts and feelings with a mixture of facts and opinions, there is always the question of whether the vernacular ‘I’ is appropriate. This more informal narrative may be less professional, but can not be ignored when referencing my experience with the 2005 release Shadow of the Colossus as I exclaimed it to be “the shittest game ever’ within the first five minutes.
Developed for Sony Computer Entertainment by Intonation Production Studio 1 (who would become known as Team Ico after their original cult hit of the same name) SOTC, internationally re-branded from Wander to Kyozo, is not your traditional action-adventure / puzzle game.
Chances are if you came across this game it was for one of two reasons: the sumptuous cardboard display case it was presented in making it spring forth from the pre-owned plastic like an archaeological gem or, by gloriously emphatic word of mouth. This was a game for people in the know, whispered in hushed tones and enamored with mutual appreciation from everyone who played it. That is if you didn’t throw your pad down within the first 5 minutes.
Plot & Characters – 7/10
The narrative driving of SOTC was so simplistic it was and is, quite frankly, genius. No hacking and slashing through mobs, no accumulating power armour, gold coins or mana potions, no dialogue and no special powers.
You are Wander (or Wanda) an effeminate man-child with no discernible ethnic origin and a complete lack of articulation. Accompanied by a rotund warhorse called Agro, your only friend in this lonely tale of lost love and an enchanted quest, which is to resurrect your sacrificed beloved Mono. How? By slaying twelve ginormous entities, the eponymous Colossi.
That was it, no hordes or masses, no faceless mobs, just one goal on each chapter of this adventure, bring down the big bad boss, or a dozen of them. You jumped upon your trusty stead, held your sword towards the sun and its reflection would guide you across a vast, barren landscape towards your foe.
Sure, there was some puzzling terrain to overcome, a little bit of swimming here and there, and some jumping and climbing when needed, but this was a precursor to what lies beneath the path, the cave, the forgotten tower. That was a sight like none other in gaming.
Sound – 8/10
Though prone to occasionally start without a cue, the soundtrack to this fantasy adventure was suitably epic, if not always memorable. Starting out as meandering background music, the orchestral overtures would spring to life when you cofronted your foe, astride the mighty beast, in your endeavor to overcome the behemoth. True, you are not very likely to purchase the soundtrack to SOTC anywhere, and its entry in a game score quiz would most likely be the million-dollar prize question, but it had everything you needed.
The sound effects were, again, minimalist yet perfect for its function, hooves pounding on the grass, grunts and moans from your hero as he attempted to slay the ancient enemy. Churning, cranking and grinding all came from each boss as necessary, with just enough vigor to keep the atmosphere tense and the engagement palpable.
Graphics – 8/10
It’s easy to forget just where the Ps2 embeds itself in graphic history, from the early TekkenTag Tournament release built up of chunky block muscles to the sublime finale of Final Fantasy XII. SOTC came along somewhere in the middle, with its minimal palette of greens and blues of the windswept, expansive grasslands stretching from black rock mountains to the windy desert planes, with plenty of ancient ruins on the way. Though Wanda’s design evolved very, very slightly over the course of the game, it was each Colossus that broke the mould.
Each had their own representative statue in the games opening main hall, but once you arrived on the playing field for the face-off, it was a totally different story. Herein lies the wonderment of encounters that resulted in the games most outstanding premise.
Gameplay – 10/10
Your initial opponent was a mid-sized humanoid stone beast, and it was here that you either lived or died by the sword. The controls were not easy to master. You needed to have precise dexterity over your gamepad, otherwise it was a long way to fall, literally. You see, the object of your encounter was to scale the giant before you and stab your victim in particular pressure points (typically two per Colossus). This would cripple them in some way and knock down that trusty life bar.
Everything depended on your ability to scale this beast like King Kong on the Empire State Building. With your grip gauge ticking down, you had to get to safety before your hands surrendered to the strain. You might seek comfort on a knee, a shoulder, the back or the head, but these were no pet Colossi, they were birds swooping through the sky, frenzied bulls knocking down towers, gigantic electric eels diving in to the ocean depths. Each one requires a different game plan, each one wholly satisfying to vanquish, and when you finished the game you had sweat on your brow and achievement in your heart, just don’t expect an overly satisfying en-game credits sequence…
Overall – 9.5/10
Playing SOTC is the equivalent of ‘you had to be there’; you have to play this game to understand. Unique and ingenious, the game-play was everything you never knew you would be challenged by. And make no mistake, this assortment of ancient nastiness were never going down without a fight. Head flailing, ducking and diving, it was impossible not to be engrossed in slaying your prey.
It’s combination of puzzling mentality, platform dynamics in the bosses lair and the action of stabbing your sword deep into that hunk of rock’s enchanted scalp made this one of the most satisfying gaming experiences of all time. That’s if you got past the bastard baptism of fire control system.
Oh and it had time trials, too. Perfect.